Washington’s Revolutionary War tent conserved in Colonial Williamsburg

YORKTOWN, Va. – Gen. George Washington did not sleep under it, but he did plan the victory at Yorktown, the last major battle of the American Revolution, under it.

The ceiling liner for the dining marquee used by Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War is undergoing conservation in the textile lab at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Collections and Conservation Building.

The Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va., which is part of the National Park Service and owns the artifact, has contracted with Colonial Williamsburg to carry out the treatment.

New information. The 18th-century worsted wool ceiling tent liner is comprised of eight long rectangular pieces with 16 pie-shaped pieces at each rounded end.

Microscopic analysis of the textile has revealed new information, including the presence of human hairs, tea and blood stains. Also, the color of the tent liner, which today is mustard yellow, appears originally to have been green.

Treatment of the liner by Colonial Williamsburg textile conservator Loreen Finkelstein began with removal of a fabric backing that was attached to the 18 foot by 30 foot textile during a previous conservation treatment in 1975. Finkelstein then humidified the liner to remove wrinkles, a process that took nearly four weeks.

Holes repaired. The National Park Service consulted with Finkelstein on the next step, which was to determine how to patch holes in the liner. Instead of hiding them with wool fabric dyed to match, they decided to use a sheer polyester fabric to stabilize rather than mask areas of loss.

Finkelstein’s textile conservation lab contracted with Janea Whitacre of Colonial Williamsburg’s fashion trades department to make a full-scale muslin copy of the liner. Using 100 yards of muslin, Whitacre and Finkelstein constructed a copy of the tent to be used to design a support mount for display purposes.

The Colonial National Historical Park hopes to display the tent liner at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Yorktown in April 2002.

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